THERE is an increasing awareness among people and their employers these days about stress and the effects it can have on work and life generally.

Partly as a result there is also a growing awareness and acceptance of various complimentary therapies, many of which can be used not only to treat specific illnesses, but as a preventative measure to help relieve stress, encourage relaxation and ensure general wellbeing.

It is estimated that 3.5% to 4% of potential working days are lost each year due to health problems, including stress and injuries.

Worcestershire County Council is one employer which has recognised the benefits of keeping staff healthy and actively encourages its employees to enjoy various complimentary therapies during their lunch hour.

Earlier this month it held its third annual health fair, giving staff the chance to try different therapies free of charge - and apparently it is working.

Roger Dollery, central health and safety officer for Worcestershire County Council said: "With more staff under our wing than any other organisation in the county, we have a responsibility to ensure any potentially beneficial treatments are made available to our employees.

"Stress in the workplace is an important health issue and these workshops are specifically designed to present useful therapies to those under pressure.

"Our aim is not just to improve employees' ability to work but also to improve the quality of their working life as a whole."

Different therapists visit County Hall three times a week and employees can pay to attend a short session.

However, the health fairs, in Malvern, Worcester and at the public hall in Evesham were free.

Jaki Allen who practices aromatherapy, Indian head massage and reiki (a natural healing method in which a healer channels energy through to another person) at Pershore Natural Therapy Centre, was one of the therapists who gave up their time to attend the Evesham fair.

She said: "A lot of therapies can treat the same conditions, it just depends what the client wants and is happy with.

"At the fair I am giving aromatherapy back massages.

"I am not using oils which are too relaxing as people have to go back to work but the massage itself is very relaxing."

Linda Collins, an occupational health nurse who works at County Hall, has herself enjoyed an Indian head massage, aromatherapy and reiki during the lunch hour sessions.

"The staff go for 15 minute sessions and it is really relaxing. It works on the principle that prevention is better than cure.

"You feel a lot more refreshed for the afternoon as it lessens the muscle tension and releases tension held in the shoulders." Mr Dollery said the county council's approach to investing in its employees' health seemed to be working and he encouraged other businesses to follow suit.

He said: "Sickness levels have stayed more or less the same since we started this even though we have had some tough times at the county council recently when you would have normally expected levels to rise.

"We also provide counselling too whether people want to talk about work worries or stresses elsewhere which are affecting their work.

"We are definitely finding it beneficial to invest in the health of our employees."